Schumann's 1836 Fantasy in C, Op. 17, is arguably the masterpiece among his works for solo piano. In her insightful introductory commentary about the Fantasy, Chu-Fang Huang said that some feel it might be more popular if the spirited March movement had concluded the work rather than being in the middle.
I had wondered if, rather than opening her recital with the Schumann, Huang shouldn't have placed this extraordinary work at the end of the first half. She stuck by Schumann's order of movements and her own instincts and triumphed on both counts.
Her declamatory opening of the Schumann piece riveted everyone's attention, and she held it with wonderful contrasts between the impassioned moments and the loving, intricate detailing of the quieter passages, all a secret message to his beloved Clara.
In the central March, her emphasis on rhythmic contours was remarkable, but she also managed to keep a singing cantabile line underneath it all.
And that cantabile feeling carried over into the gorgeous, contemplative Finale, where Schumann's mesmerizing arpeggios and absolutely delicious modulations made it clear (to me, at least) that this was the true love song to Clara. Huang poured her whole soul into this music, and it was the finest Schumann Fantasy I've ever heard.
What could possibly come after this? It was the totally different spiritual world of Ravel's 1920 "La Valse," an impression of fin de siecle Vienna. Quiet inner rumblings and spectral snippets of a waltz theme slowly coalesce through denser textures and running lines into a fuller-scale sonic spectrum. Huang's exquisite control of this process made one almost forget that she was playing a transcription of a full orchestral score. And with the conclusion's sweeping glissandos and increasing aura of frenzy and decadence, all memory of the orchestral original was swept away.
Other aspects of this pianist's art were revealed in the crisp, clean articulation and clarity of opposing lines she brought to Haydn's Sonata in B minor, Hob. 1 6/3 2. This was Haydn played with delicacy but not timidity, with extreme precision and rhythmic security.
The recital closed with a true show-stopper, Prokofiev's 1943 Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat, made famous by Horowitz. Huang applied great rhythmic spring and propulsive energy to the first movement, and a wonderfully solemn traversal of the slow movement that often seems like a complex Russian blues. In the nonstop Finale, marked Precipitato, the frenetic build-up of both volume and propulsive pressure, almost seemed more than the artist could sustain, but she hung on successfully, to a huge ovation.
This was a superb recital. The Schumann Fantasy was a true gift to the community.
Presented by Buffalo Chamber Music Society on Sunday afternoon in Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.